Sometimes you need a cocktail. Maybe it was a longer-than-usual day at the office or with the kids. Maybe you finally got a sitter, so you could catch up with friends you haven’t seen in forever. Perhaps you and the husby are on date night. Or you need to sneak away, to people watch, in a pleasant space from your perch at the bar, and have a moment alone with your well-made drink. Whatever the occasion, after a cocktail, you are bound to get hungry. Thankfully, Brick & Mortar slings substantial and satisfying food, in addition to their top-notch libations. Enjoy a reasonably affordable night out — with food and drinks, in a space so hip you’ll wonder if Google Maps brought you to the right place. Because there is no sign on the door.
It did. It’s the door just to the left of Central Kitchen, in the bustle of Central Square. As you head up the stairs you may experience deja vu — have we been here before to see DJs and drink gasoline-strong vodka sodas, packed like sardines in the tiny lounge dubbed the Enormous Room? Well, you wouldn’t recognize the space. Two years ago owner Gary Strack, who also runs Central Kitchen, which is downstairs, and Firebrand Saints in Kendall Square, closed the Enormous Room and reopened as Brick & Mortar a few months later. The place has a serious bar program, and a small but delicious menu. Classic rock plays on speakers, communal high tops line the walls, and an elegant, C-shaped, hammered-copper bar is the crown jewel, sitting at the rear of the narrow, exposed-brick room.
While sipping a Sister Mary ($10), a delightfully zippy, rose-colored concoction of tequila, aperol, grapefruit, and St. Germaine, and a Take Your Top Off ($10), a pineapple, coconut, absinthe-laced treat that will transport you to the beach bars of Waikiki (if you can fight through your embarrassment and order it), we realize we are ravenous. Concerned the menu will consist of dainty cocktail fare, we begin ordering aggressively from the salad and snacks section.
First to arrive is devils on horseback ($8), crisp bacon wrapped around a sticky-sweet date, with a salty, blue cheese center that will have you flagging down your kind waitress for another order. Delicious, but three dates isn’t hitting the spot. More generous are french fries with crispy duck confit and gruyere ($10), golden shoestrings with a rich, nutty cheese sauce, and crisp bits of duck confit. House-pickled peppers on top of this heap cut right through the richness; you’ll find yourself nudging the fancy poutine toward your end of the table. The very good house-made pickles pop up all over the menu, but it’s not a bad idea to order them as fried pickles ($9), a heaping plate of cauliflower, onion, bread-and-butter cucumber rounds, and string and wax beans encased in a light batter, which comes with a tasty herbed aioli for dipping.
Caesar salad ($8) is fresh and flavorful, with thick shavings of Parmesan, crunchy little croutons, and being the real deal, plenty of white anchovies. A good-size portion of chicken wings ($12) are crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside, with an apricot-habanero glaze, and creamy blue cheese dip. But where is the heat — and the flavor? They are bland, as is the seared halloumi ($11). The Greek cheese is nicely caramelized but the salad is begging for something crunchy, and maybe a hint of sweetness in the dressing on diced roasted red pepper and watercress in a simple lemon vinaigrette. It comes off as salty and one-note.
Sandwiches banish any fears we have of leaving hungry. With prices in the low double digits, they are really complete meals alongside a pile of those excellent fries and a mess of house-made pickles. The B&M burger ($15) is a standout. Sometimes restaurant burgers are simply too rich to eat comfortably. Here, the balance of fat and flavor on a half-pound, house-ground Angus patty, topped with bacon and cheddar, is just right. As we take our last bites, the meat drippings have deliciously soaked through the toasted brioche bun.
Oyster po’ boy ($16) comes in brioche as well, this time a split top bun, with crispy fried oysters spilling out onto the plate. With a slick of remoulade, and fine pickle and tomato, it’s a perfect summertime indulgence.
The only dish that inches into the $20 range is a fried chicken basket ($23) that could feed two with moderate appetites: half a chicken, coleslaw, potato salad, pickles, and fresh watermelon. The price also includes a “lil’ buddy,” which we discover is a miniature Budweiser.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a cocktail bar with a sense of humor, and fairly priced food. Let’s have another.Catherine Smart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.